Model Rail (UK)
Factfile: Class 59
By the early 1980s, aggregate company Foster Yeoman was unhappy with the reliability of British Rail’s fairly new Class 56 diesel‑electric locomotives. Tasked with hauling an intensive flow of extremely heavy stone trains from the Mendip quarries, the ‘56s’ were proving troublesome, even when employed in multiple. Yeoman had already supplied its own fleet of hopper wagons to improve efficiency, so it was a logical progression for the company to investigate the possibility of sourcing its own locomotives.
Despite worries regarding trade union reaction, BR agreed to the proposal, leading to Yeoman inviting tenders for a small fleet of freight diesel locomotives. In fact, Yeoman had already been operating a Us‑built General Motors SW1001 ‘switcher’ at Merehead quarry, which had shown unprecedented levels of reliability. Therefore, Yeoman’s engineers approached GM about the viability of a main line diesel being created for use on the BR network.
Unsurprisingly, GM’S proposal was accepted, and consisted of a significantly modified SD40‑2 ‘Co‑co’ design, which had to be squeezed to fit within the UK loading gauge. GM also had to ensure the new locomotives complied with BR’S exhaust specifications and provide a suitable cab at each end, in contrast to the SD40‑2’S single cab arrangement. Built at GM’S Electro‑motive Division’s Lagrange Works in Illinois and shipped to the UK, the first four 3,300hp Class 59s arrived in 1986, with a fifth following in 1988.
Fellow aggregate company ARC followed suit and ordered four locomotives, which were assembled at London, Ontario (Canada) and delivered in 1990. Various modifications were made to the original Class 59 design, with ARC’S locomotives being numbered in the Class 59/1 series.
National Power also ordered six examples, again built in Canada, and delivered between 1994‑95, for use on bulk coal and limestone trains in the North of England. The Class 59/2s boasted a slightly higher top speed and were eventually acquired by EWS/DB and, more recently by Freightliner.
All but one Class 59 is now owned and operated by Freightliner, which gained the Mendip quarry contract in 2020, while 59003 has been in the hands of GBRF since 2014, following a spell working in Germany.